Every successful business starts with a vision. Every unsuccessful business does too.
How can you tell whether your dream is destined to succeed? And once your new business is operating, how can you keep that dream on track?
We asked three successful entrepreneurs how they came up with the idea for their businesses. What led them to make the decision to go ahead and commit time, money and energy to turning that dream into reality? How they knew their vision could become a viable business?
The first two installments focused on Ken and Melba Ferdinand's beloved New Orleans coffee shop Café Rose Nicaud, and Steve Fox's Urban Putt minigolf bar-restaurant start-up in San Francisco. This installment, which spotlights ArtSpot Productions as it celebrates 20 years of theatrical activism in Louisiana, begins now.
It Should Be Orgasmic
In New Orleans, the multi-talented performance artist/theatrical director/producer/educator Kathy Randels is gearing up for a major celebration: the 20th anniversary of her non-profit corporation ArtSpot Productions. "I started using the name in 1995," Kathy recalls. "Initially it was just an umbrella for my performances; better than saying Kathy Randels presents Kathy Randels. We got our non-profit status in 2002, 12 years ago."
How do you keep a non-profit in business for 12 years—especially one that specializes in cutting-edge theatrical productions and fearless social activism? What the heck is an ArtSpot anyway?
"The ArtSpot is the place on your soul," Kathy explains, "or your spirit, or your body that is hit when you experience a great work of art. Something like the g-spot. It should be orgasmic, and expand you 360-degrees. That's still my goal with art."
ArtSpot-the-non-profit is a multi-disciplinary performance company with three areas of focus. First, it sponsors the creation of original, live performances—some of which take place in theaters. It specializes in exciting site-specific events like Kiss Kiss Julie (variations on Strindberg's Miss Julie, staged in a New Orleans mansion and its lush backyard) and Loup Garou (an environmental fable produced in New Orleans' City Park).
Second, ArtSpot administers and co-facilitates the LCIW Drama Club, a performance ensemble that works inside the Louisiana State Correctional Institute for Women. Along with her partner, dancer Aussetua AmorAmenkum (and under the auspices of ArtSpot), Kathy has been working with the women incarcerated inside the prison since 2000.
Third, ArtSpot supports a number of performance-related education projects aimed at middle- and high-school students in New Orleans. In 1998, it produced a major site-specific piece, Lower Nine Stories, that grew out of its work with a group in Alfred Lawless High School. Lower Nine Stories was initially performed on the Mississippi River levee. Students At the Center involved students at McDonogh 35 High School as well as Lawless. In the late '90s Kathy's brother Jim started teaching at Douglas High School along with poet Kalamu Ya Salaam, and she teamed up with them, putting the writing the students had done with Jim and Kalamu up on its feet in performance. Post-Katrina, almost all of ArtSpot's youth-oriented education work has been through a group called iROC (Individuals Relating and Overcoming Conflict).
A Lot of Paperwork
What possessed Kathy and her husband/artistic partner/musical director Sean LaRocca to apply for non-profit status in the first place? They certainly didn't have much time on their hands!
"Between LCIW, the professional performances we were producing, and the education work we were doing," Kathy explains, "it became clear that grants were going to be a way to keep funding the work. Initially we worked with previously-established non-profits. Our first fiscal agent was John O'Neal's Junebug Productions; Dog and Pony Productions was our second. And we thought that becoming a non-profit would make it easier to get grants."
They didn't hire any consultants, but their lawyer shepherded ArtSpot through the application. "Sean helped so much too," says Kathy. "I think of myself as the visionary/chaotic and Sean as the grounded, organizing force in our team. He's the numbers man, he's the accountant, he's the web designer."
A Leap of Faith
What made Kathy think ArtSpot would be viable as a non-profit? As it turns out, the decision to move forward was more of a leap of faith. Sometimes that's the way it happens.
"I didn't know it would be viable," she admits. "It wasn't so calculated for me. It was more like: We've been applying for grants a lot, and we've been getting them, and if we have our own non-profit that will give us more autonomy. I wasn't really looking past the immediate need for more independence."
Kathy had heard that applying for non-profit status involved a lot of paperwork, and that part was quite true. "That was the hardest part for me," she admits. " but Sean looked at the IRS web site and said, 'Kathy, you have to do this, this, this and this.' I wrote it, he edited it. The biggest problem, really, was just taking it out of the air and onto the ground. Laying out the intentions of what it was we were going to do."
Surviving for 12 years is proof enough that Kathy and Sean have done their homework, but this is still the the-a-tuh and there's always drama. Asked about the biggest obstacle to ArtSpot's progress, Kathy laughs: "Starting a non-profit in the first place." But there's a real grievance behind that joke.
"Starting a non-profit opens a lot of doors," she admits. "And as a fiduciary entity you get to write grants and receive individual donations—but all of those things involve an incredible amount of time and energy that you have to take away from making the art. The art is subsumed by paper-pushing and middle-management.
"Still, I'm very proud of the fact that ArtSpot's post-Katrina work has become primarily site-specific," Kathy says. "And I'm proud of the innovation that we've brought to our city and our landscape with those performances. I'm proud of the healing nature of our work."
After 12 years, has ArtSpot's inspirational vision changed due to the intrusion of reality?
"Of course," laughs Kathy. "And not at all. One must evolve. It's the path of the founder: Staying the course and allowing the gift of wind and time and other people to send you to amazing, uncharted territory."